MONTREAL — Canadians are facing a likely future without products like plastic cutlery, cotton swab sticks or plastic plates after the country on Monday joined a growing global movement to ban single-use plastics blighting the environment.
Announcing the ban next to a lake at the picturesque Gault Nature Reserve in Mont St-Hilaire, outside of Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wanted his children to be able to play on the beach or swim in a lake without having their memories interrupted by dead birds or fish killed by pollution.
“People have had enough of seeing their parks and beaches covered with plastic,” he said. “As parents we’re at a point when we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles. That’s a problem, one that we have to do something about.”
The World Economic Forum estimates that 90 percent of the plastic ending up in the oceans comes from 10 major rivers, and that currently there are 50 million tons of plastic in the world’s oceans. Environmental experts say plastic bags can take centuries to degrade.
The move by Canada comes as countries and cities across the world have been seeking to ban or phase out the use of plastic products, and plastic bags in particular. In March New York State announced plans for a statewide ban on most types of single-use plastic bags for retail sales after similar bans in California and Hawaii.
Mr. Trudeau noted that Canada threw away $8 billion Canadian dollars worth of plastic material each year and that, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the national environmental agency, that includes more than 34 million plastic bags each day. By recycling and reusing plastic, Mr. Trudeau said, the country could reduce pollution, create 42,000 jobs and protect the environment.
Mr. Trudeau’s announcement comes as he is gearing up for a general election at the end of this year, in which climate change and the environment are expected to figure prominently and are viewed as issues that resonate with voters, in particular the younger generation.
The government said it would undertake scientific analysis before determining which plastic products to ban as early as 2021. But Mr. Trudeau said Canada expected to follow the example of the European Union, which voted in March to ban 10 single-use plastics that most often end up in the ocean, including plastic cutlery, plates and cotton-swab sticks.
The bloc introduced the legislation after its research showed that plastics made up 80 percent of marine litter on European beaches, threatening the coastal environment.
Some retailers in Canada have become creative to try and discourage consumers from using plastic bags, including by shaming them.
Shoppers at East West Market in central Vancouver who decide to pay for a plastic bag are given a bag with an embarrassing logo emblazoned on it like “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium,” “Dr. Toews Wart Ointment Wholesale” or “The Colon Care Co-Op.”
“It’s hard to always remember a reusable bag,” the store wrote on its Facebook page. “We redesigned our plastic bags to help you never forget again.”
To help reduce pollution and waste, in 2015, the British government introduced a five pence charge for plastic bags for most groceries, spawning concerns about “bag rage” by angry shoppers.
But the government said the fee would help reduce the cost of cleaning up garbage by 60 million pounds, or about $76 million, over a decade.
Nick Clegg, who was deputy prime minister at the time the charge was announced, estimated that it could take 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose.